Katy Park Fly-Over


It’s become a Tuesday night ritual for the dogs and I – bringing their boy to the park for soccer practice, then walking the perimeter. I watch the sky, they sniff the ground. We are the guardians of earth and air.
These places don’t belong to us, though. The sky is ruled by the birds, migrant and permanent residents of oak and elm.  The earth is ruled by soccer cleats and lawnmowers, little rodents and squirrels. Other dogs try to lay liquid claim to it, like mine, but they all know the temporary nature of such claims.
A wide swath of grass is cut to open up to the rainwater treatment, a riparian oasis. Red winged blackbirds sit singly at tops of small trees, making their pip-pip-pip scree call. A pair of Carolina Wrens fly up and down,  in and out of the long grass at the water’s edge looking for food. Mockingbirds fight each other for territory in the trees, screeching at each other in downward dives with outstretched feet.
It’s the black bellied whistling ducks that reign supreme these days, though. Flashes of white undersides of wings mark small flocks of three or four flying overhead, making their distinctive whistle calls that have earned them their name. Seven of them line up along a roof of a nearby house, scooting over by inches to make even spaces between them.
The best part of the fly-overs at the park, though, are the short and frenetic flights of the scissortails.  There is a handful of them that have terrible arguments over perching spots in the elm trees closest to the soccer practice.  It is easier to hear them than it is to see them, but sometimes a few of them fly out in fierce rages and circle right back around, long forked tails snaking against the sky.

I was so proud of my little son last weekend when he pointed at one of these perched on a wire above a stoplight and correctly identified it.  Even this night at the park, a man stopped me to ask me what kind of bird that was, and thought it was very interesting.  I explained that they were just starting to come around here.  They’ll be here until the fall, as you can see from this occurence range map here:


Last night, we rode our bikes out to the secret place of ducky delight.  When I pointed out that my favorite bird was there, my older son said, “that pink flamingo thing?”, and the little one corrected him and said, “No, it’s a spoonbill!”  Even though he still thinks he sees hummingbirds everywhere and is not quite sure what a white winged dove is, he’s getting good at the birding thing.  He wants to find “legendary” birds, so now we have to look up what birds are the most rare and where they live.

For now, the dogs and I will watch to see what flies over Katy Park this soccer season, and invest more time at the CRNT.

South Shore Park, Bastrop


It was twilight, and my little son and I stood at the water’s edge.  He was so excited to get to the swimming area of the park, but excitement turned to trepidation when he realized this was a lake, and not a pool.  It had inhabitants.  He could hear the occasional splash as a fish breached the water’s surface and made a jump.  His older brother had filled his head with stories of unknown horrors, straight out of Twilight Zone episodes and brotherly teasing, of what kind of dangers could be lurking in there, and now he couldn’t let it go.

“Will the fish eat me?” he worried tremulously by my side. “Nope.  Come on,” I said, trying to encourage him to step out a few more feet.  “But what will they do?”

“They might kiss you, that’s all”  “Will it hurt?”

On and on this went.  I wondered how this child came to be mine, so full of fears, while I was always the brave one.  I thought about my more daring years, when I would go out to lakes late at night with boyfriends, skinny dipping with who knows what swimming around us, and I marveled that I was brave enough to cast all concerns aside and be completely vulnerable to the creatures of the murky lake.  I wasn’t scared now, but I did like the relative safety of a clothing barrier.

But maybe a boy like that needs a mother like me, as I finally coaxed him out to the middle of the swimming area, sitting on our bottoms on soft mud, reveling at the sounds of the night.  We became a part of nature, he and I, experiencing it from the inside.  It was just a short time, and then he was done, which was fine by me, and we climbed out as wet sand fell off our rears.  We got on our bikes and rode back to our cabin, excited to see what tomorrow would bring.


Dawn breaks at South Shore Park, on the shores of Lake Bastrop, and the birds begin calling.  Now is the time to set the fishing poles out, as the fish are jumping in the nearby cove, but the park is sleepy yet.  I was wearing my bright blue flannel pajamas, not bothering to dress yet before biking off to the bathroom and then the bench, sitting quietly with J as we enjoy the sunrise together.

We eased back into camp, and after I dressed, he made breakfast on our cook stove at the picnic table outside our cabin.  Children reluctantly stretched and got out of bed, shaking sleep from their eyes to come sit to eat.  Of course, the first thing the little one wanted to do was try swimming again.

We were the only ones creeping into the swimming area at seven in the morning.  A mist lifted off the water, and we shivered in the adjustments to the coolness; first the ankles, then the knees, then the waist.  We watched the first wave of canoes and kayaks start to make their way across the water, dropping fishing lines in the lake that is stocked regularly with Florida largemouth bass and three kinds of catfish, as well as crappie and perch.

We abandon swimming for biking.  We had loaded up all four bikes.  The night before, we had biked around the park, exploring the fishing pier and boat dock, but then we had approached the road and I decided its deep darkness was probably not that safe to explore at that particular time.  I had promised we would go back down the road during the daytime; plus, we needed to anyways, seeing as how we arrived too late for official check in the evening before.  The camp office was down that way.

When we checked in, a lady was renting all the available canoes and kayaks for an outdoors club that was meeting today.  We considered the $5 rental for another time, but today settled on adding a cane fishing pole to our account as we settled our day fees and got our sticker.
We each took turns attempting to catch fish with the cane pole, a bit of Spam on the end for bait, but it never really panned out.  My older son was doubtful we could even catch something with that primitive pole, but I knew it was not the pole, but the timing of our fishing that was off that day.  I still had a good time holding the pole in the warm sunshine, occasionally taking a sip from the little bottle of wine in my pocket, writing in my journal, and watching the birds.

The birds of the lake were mostly ordinary lake birds this weekend:  dozens of American Coots, a lone Great Egret across the lake, a Great Blue Heron here and there.  Small flocks of snowy egrets crossed the sky.  I wanted to see the Osprey that our particular area of cabins got its name from (Osprey Point), but it did not show itself until much later in the day, delighting me as it flew directly above me, looking for a fishy lunch.  The most unusual bird of the day, and a new one for the year for me (#84), was a very small Green Heron who was almost blending in with the shoreline, slowly making his way around the reeds.  On a biking venture around the Fisherman’s Loop Trail, I got a glimpse of a yellow throated warbler, also new for the year (#85).

We were here at the park to experience everything about Bastrop that we had missed out on last month when we were in town for the Texas Challenge.  Both the state parks were booked up a month ago when I called to reserve a spot, but this park, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, had one cabin left.  The cabins offer air conditioned comfort and the chance to go camping without the hassle of setting up a tent.  They run about $50 a night, with daily entrance fees on top of that ($5 per adult), but for $130 for the weekend for our family of four, it was an affordable way to enjoy Bastrop without giving up too much creature comfort (not that we normally mind, but we do get tired of packing the tent equipment around).  Each cabin can sleep five, with bunk beds pictured here.
No dogs are allowed in the cabins (Scout and Breeze had to hunker down with their dog-grandparents for the weekend), and the only drawback to the campsites were that there were no individual fire rings.  We did find a fire ring near the cove, though, that allowed us to have a campfire on Saturday night.

Later, we left the park to try some of the other things the town had to offer.  It was Easter weekend, and I had a little guy  who had specifically requested an easter egg hunt ALL THREE DAYS of the weekend.  J had shaken his head at my caving to this request the day before, buying Easter eggs and goodies to hide around the cabin for a night time flashlight hunt.  This afternoon, we were on the way to an egg hunt at a Methodist church in town.

It ended up being my little one and I at the church, while J took the older one with him to WalMart for a supply run (there was a bike situation).  While we were at the church, the kids went inside to listen to the story of Easter.  I watched my son get really excited as the teacher brought out elements of the story, and he came to sit next to her to show off how much he knew about the story of Jesus.  I realized how much he was learning about his faith from the stories I told him, or the things he read in his little Bible that my old church sent him when he was born, or picking up from Sunday School.

The egg hunt ended before J was back to pick us up, so we walked down Main Street and ended up checking out a couple of stores.  I bought us ice cream cones at the the old time soda fountain in the Lock Drug Store.

Next door, we found a collection of geodes and interesting rocks displayed in baskets and boxes in front of the Bastrop Goldsmith Silversmith.  We love interesting rocks, and we bought a few for our collections.  I was talking to the man who ran the store about how I wanted to add the one I bought to a terrarium (like the ones I made for my wedding), and he was excited about this idea and told me where I could harvest little plants nearby.  While I was talking to him, I noticed some interesting gems in his display, and asked about them.  They looked like bright sapphires.  He told me they were gems made out of the ashes of Mt Helens (Helenite).  As he pulled the rings out to show me, I saw J driving by, and had to rush out to meet him to get picked up.  I was so excited about the jewelry and let him know it was something I would love for an anniversary or something.  That man of mine is so awesome that he actually contemplated stopping into the store to buy something for me later than night when he had to go back into town, but realized I was so on top of the budget that he would have a hard time hiding an expenditure like that right now (I am trying to save for our vacation this summer).

After this, we stopped for lunch at the place I was craving the whole time we were in Bastrop last time – the Roadhouse Cafe.  We sat on the porch and nibbled on friend pickle spears and chili cheese fries.  J tortured me with letting me have a bite of his mouth watering cheeseburger, but I was really enthralled by the Fiesta Chicken Salad I had ordered.  Despite the kids each spilling a soda on their laps, we had a really nice time there.

After this, we went for a bike ride at the Colorado River Refuge, but that was such a cool place that I will have to write about it later.  Then we returned to the park, and all promptly fell asleep in our beds in the cabin for a nice afternoon nap.  I was woken up by “Mom, mom, mom” a’la Stewie from Family Guy style, by the little one who wanted to be fed again.  After a snack, we headed back out to the swimming area.

This time, there were other children playing in the water, so it wasn’t long before my son was off and playing with them, no longer concerned about what might eat him in the water.  I had waded out with him, but now I could just relax a bit.  I leaned back and made myself horizontal, laying in the water like a bed.   I can hear the children playing a short distance away from me, so I can tell from the sounds of “Marco!  Polo!” that my son is safely engaged in his own activities.

All I have to do is cross my feet and my arms, and I am floating along with the pull of the water.  Eyes closed, I make myself completely at the mercy of the universe.  At this moment, I literally have blind trust that everything will be okay.  All the worries of the days and weeks and months slide away from me.   When I open my eyes, all I see is sky and clouds, and I am focusing only on the water and wind.  For some reason, it makes me think about baby Moses, at the mercy of the world in that little basket on the Nile.  God saw to it that little baby Moses was found safely by Pharoah’s daughter, unharmed.  I feel a bit like that baby right now, knowing that everything will be just as the universe intends it to be.

imageThe swimming area had these big piles of sand for the kids to play in, and I had thought ahead and brought a bucket and shovel for the little one.  He got out of the water and happily played there with the other kids, while I picked the fishing pole back up, restocked my wine, got my journal and binoculars out, and spent the afternoon away on the fishing pier.  After this, we all gathered around the cabin for a delicious baked macaroni meal cooked over our campstove.  Then, we carried the firewood over to the ring and made our fire.  As we sat there, I asked the kids what is the happiest they remember being.  All my happiest memories seem to take place in a campfire’s glow, and my older son said the same thing.  Almost all his campfires have been with us, so that makes me happy to know that we are giving that to him.  J’s happiest moment is when we all slipped off to bed, leaving him alone with the dying fire.image
After all we experienced over the weekend, it was the reflection on faith and trust that touched me the most. My sons surprised me with what they knew and learned about faith, and I wonder if they thought the same from me. It was a memory we can hold on to later, and I hope we will have more here. It is definitely a place I would like to go back to.

Cinco Ranch Nature Trail #4 – The Darn Dog

birds 1“Daddy, did you hear that dog?” said the little girl who had just passed us on her bike to her father next to her.  “Yes, I did,” he said.

I was not surprised.  I bet everyone at the lake last night heard my dog.  The little girl was referring to the whining he was doing when they passed us, similar to the whining he did every time we switched directions, stopped for a second, saw another dog, got passed by a jogger.  Somebody needs to either get out more, get more exercise, get his nuts removed, get a shock collar, or be worked with more on calming the eff down.  He was driving me crazy, and not contributing to my goal of simmering down from the work week and releasing the stress headache I had going on.

Also, he does not make a good birding companion.  When I stopped to look with the binoculars at the rich bird life I was seeing along the way, he would whine and tug on the leash, like “let’s go already!”.  When I sat down on the grassy creekside to watch the ducks in the special duck place, he could not stand it, fretting and whining and trying to break his down-stay.

In the end, though, he and I (and Breeze, who was a very good girl) got about an hour of exercise, and I ended up being very happy with the walk overall.  I discovered that the secret place of ducky delight is even better than I thought.  There were all kinds of interesting birds there last night.

Even better than a little cove full of black bellied whistling ducks is a cove full of blue-winged teal.  Sure, there were a few whistling ducks there, and probably at night, they do own the place, but this late evening, it was the blue winged teal that had taken over.  The whistling ducks look absolutely gigantic next to these smaller, more delicate ducks.  My cell phone camera is not great, but you can see the much smaller ducks in the background and the whistling ducks in front.

birds 3Also, there were a few more unique birds, like a couple of black necked stilts.  A handful of what I believe to be dowitchers fed nearby.  There were also a few herons (great blue, little blue, perhaps some unidentified) here and there.  Further down the path, by the side of the big lake, I saw a black crowned night heron sitting there unperturbed by my dog’s whining.  I also spied a loggerhead shrike perching on a branch, which is the third time this past week that I had a possible shrike in my viewer, so I am counting it.  A small bird with a medium bill flitted about on the rocks feeding from the edge of the lake, which I am thinking was a western sandpiper.  Red winged blackbirds sang chirpy songs at each other from little trees on the sides of the creek.

My favorite part of last night, though, were the barn swallows.  Dozens of them were swooping up and down above the creek that leads to the cove, going back and forth between there and the tunnels that make up the nature trail.  Golden bellies flowed below blue wings in a graceful arch up and down that was soothing to watch, but impossible to capture by photograph.  Some things you just have to commit to your memory instead.

Earlier this week, I was captivated by some scissor tailed flycatchers who were arguing in and out of a tree at the soccer fields.    This is also something I will have to commit to mental memory.  I only barely got a good look with the binoculars.  That brings my bird total up to 83 for the year.

I am loving the CRNT more and more every time I go to it.  I can’t believe I have lived here over three years and am just now discovering it.  I am glad I am finally getting over being sick, because it was a bummer to be missing some migration action.  Good thing I caught those blue wings now, because they will be gone in a couple of weeks.  I am hoping my ankle will start feeling better soon (it’s been giving me some trouble for a few weeks) and we can get back to our bike rides and seeing more birds.

cinco ranch 3

Spring Creek Nature Center Goings-On

wildlife list There are so many reasons to love the Spring Creek Nature Center.  Inside the center, displays dazzle young children with live and preserved specimens, coloring areas, quizzes, fun worksheets and nature journals.

Outside, there is the forest, which is practically enchanted; filled with lichens, mosses, big trees and little trees.  Mud sucked at our shoes at some parts of the trail, while monarch butterflies fed at flowers at other parts.  Birds trill and flit from branch to branch.  Could have spent hours identifying species but only had a few minutes in between geocaching, hanging out with friends, having a picnic lunch, and learning in the center.  Belted kingfisher was the new species of the day (#75 for the year).  Eastern bluebird flitted from a feeder as we walked up.  A ladder-backed woodpecker showed us his hidey-hole.  lichen prehistoric treeThe best part of the day we could have spent hours on, but had other commitments – Merriwether, a research chemist who spends his weekends exploring Houston’s edible plants, was teaching a (free!) class today on foraging edibles.  We were able to stay for about an hour but could have listened all day.  There were just too many things pulling at us – our friends who were going to meet us at the playground, the other friends we have promised to drop a kid off after, a child’s hunger for his sandwich, and a soccer game in the afternoon that all needed to be fit in there somewhere.

This was my third visit here this year, and still so much more I feel I want to see.  Every second Saturday, there is a bird walk from 7:30-9.  There will be another foraging class in the fall.  And, there are always more caches to find and more birds to see.